scivolo: a concept utilising screen-less compact hardware controllers for music performance
Over the past years I found ways to treat electronics in a manner similar to traditional instruments, which gradually brings me closer to an —as I see it— authentic performance. My desire to have a portable electronic instrument eventually resulted in the development of the scivolo. After a long period of time playing my analogue modular synthesiser, numerous experiments and attempts to create analogue instruments in a smaller, feasible package, I started to look for a completely different approach. My experience as a percussionist and experiments with a Laptop Feedback Synthesiser I conceived made clear to me, I need a good physical connection to my future instrument.
one of the first tests playing the scivolo's fm-synthesiser section
My search led me to one of the oldest electronic music input devices, the ribbon controller. A device that allows me best access to musical expression and performance. I acquired a Doepfer R2M Ribbon Controller for performing with my modular synthesiser. Years later, in autumn 2012 — out of pure curiosity — I began to explore its MIDI capabilities. My first attempts where the simple application of two sine wave oscillators. Later I extended the capabilities of my test setup and eventually configured three sine wave oscillators in a simple frequency modulation configuration. My exploration required to access more parameters simultaneously. So I connected the next MIDI controller in reach to the computer: a Korg nanoKONTROL.
a power-noise demo comprising several flavours of distorted, chopped up, glitching sounds
During my experiments with these MIDI controllers I found a way to attach a nanoKONTROL2 to the steel rail of my ribbon controller. I had what I wanted: a single compact controller unit I could handle with one hand and have on my lap while playing. Further development led to the `scivolo', a laptop instrument where, during performance, no table and no access to the computer is necessary.
The scivolo basically comprises two main parts: the controller unit acting as musical input device giving me access to the sound generators and providing visual feedback; and the computer-workhorse running the sound synthesis engines and required management tasks. The controller unit rests on my lap while I sit. The laptop's screen does not need to be within eyeshot. Off-the-shelf hardware was combined utilising various types of interfaces. These components would require far more cabling and connections than I am prepared to handle. Currently, the configuration is too cluttered and setting it up takes too long. I consider the scivolo in its current state a proof of concept, thus, for the time being, I am quite satisfied with it. Improvements are in the planning and will simplify the setup significantly.
performing at De Groene Gemeenschap, Amsterdam – October 2013
(video by Jan/De Groene Gemeenschap)
(video by Jan/De Groene Gemeenschap)
Currently, two sound generator systems, one based on FM-synthesis and the other one on granular-synthesis, are included. An output stage common to all sound sources provides reverberation and gain fx processing. A delay unit – I call it delaybox – provides stomp-box-like time delay effects. A special ring buffer constantly records the audio from a dedicated ringbuffer bus. All synthesiser voices' outputs are collected on the main bus which feeds the output stage. The delaybox and main out signals are passed on to the ringbuffer bus. The ring buffer's output in turn feeds the main bus. This allows to treat the ring buffer signal similar to a synthesiser voice. A dedicated replay function reads the ring buffer when triggered by the performer.
clusters of superimposing rhythms created by just employing the scivolo's sound synthesis engine
I decided not to try to get every possible parameter onto the musical interface. It is a genuine challenge to have as few parameters as possible accessible while retaining great flexibility. Since the amount of available controls on the nanoKONTROL2 is limited I had to introduce a set of mode-buttons which allow the performer to switch between different layers of controls. Currently there are separate layers for the FM-synthesiser and the granular-synthesis engine. A third layer is reserved for future use. Preset management, mode selection, reverberation unit, delaybox, gain fx, ring buffer, output volume and a note-on indicator are accessible from all virtual layers (this is for the current scivolo version 0.9).